If faith is spiritual, can it be political?

THERE have been a number of articles in the media which speak for and against the idea of “political sermons” being delivered over the pulpit within congregations of Christians. Some regard this as the abuse of the separation of Church and State and others reframe that faith after all is political; if faith is meant to lead to action. Allow me my three senses worth; pun intended.

The book of James states that faith without action is like a man who views himself in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like.

St Francis of Assisi says, “preach the Gospel all the time, and when necessary use words!” Proverbs teaches us to seek for wisdom as if for gold, and argues that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Is such wisdom then not from God?

So, is faith political? Faith is spiritual; that we all know. But is it also political? If political, is it only personal?

Or, can it also be communal? Is all action a prerequisite for faith? Is faith an action-verb? Does having faith mean anything if it does not lead one to act in a preferred or prescribed way, at least as taught by one’s scriptures or teachers? Are teachers then cheats, if they mislead from the pulpit?

But, to understand all these questions and issues, first let us first understand the concept of the hierarchy of knowledge, or otherwise called the pyramid of knowledge.

According to Russell Ackoff, a systems theorist and professor of organisational change, the content of the human mind can be classified into five categories:

  • Data: symbols;
  • Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions;
  • Knowledge: application of data and information; answers “how” questions;
  • Understanding: appreciation of “why”; and
  • Wisdom: evaluated understanding.

Ackoff indicates that the first four categories relate to the past; they deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design.

With wisdom, people can create the future rather than just grasp the present and past. But achieving wisdom isn’t easy; people must move successively through the other categories.

The word knowledge is a complex word. Can there be knowledge without understanding?

How is knowledge and understanding different from wisdom? Ackoff suggests that the first four deals with the past and wisdom include some predictive knowledge embedded within vision and design intent.

Therefore wisdom incorporates issues and concerns about the future which may not be considered within the first four, but may have been incorporated by the designer’s intent. Who then is the designer of knowledge and such intent?

Another philosopher of knowledge, Michael Polanyi introduced the concept of personal knowledge to distinguish such implicit personal knowledge from generalised knowledge. He labelled it tacit knowledge and made the further argument that a person’s background, faith, culture and other local factors do influence the formation of tacit knowledge.

One always has more tacit knowledge about any subject that one is able to translate into either words for communication, or even deployed to solve problems.

Creative knowledge happens when tacit understandings of issues or concerns are deployed into more public solutions vide either inventions or innovations.

With this as background, is faith then political? There was a time in the philosophy of science when it was believed that all modern scientific knowledge was objectively knowable truth.

Faith belonged to values and thus was conjecture, but not knowledge by modern measures of reason. The Heisenberg experiment demonstrated that any measure at one and the same time distorts the object being measured.

Therefore, all knowledge, and especially also scientific knowledge was subjective knowledge and influenced by human interpretive perception.

Faith and values were also knowledge like all else.

Therefore, like all good science, faith also had vision and intentions of designers and developers. All studies of such purpose, even if philosophical, could be considered as the pursuit of wisdom.

In fact, this was always implied by the root word for wisdom, Sophia.

Consequently, reason and faith are two sides of one coin. Only humankind can reason. Therefore faith and reason are two processes within the same human being.

I would further argue that the human heart and mind are two dimensions of the same human; as he or she contemplates action, in any situation. But, the truth also is that the distance between the mind and heart are often the greatest distance in the world.

Therefore, all faith is political. Faith systems argue that knowledge of any truth requires one to walk in the light of that truth; action defines faith! If there is no action, one does not have personal knowledge, and therefore it may only be subject matter appreciation at the level of knowledge or at best at the level of understanding, but not yet wisdom which includes a faith step into uncertainty. I hope these notes educate and inform rather than confuse.

K.J. JOHN is a former public servant who spent more than 31 years in the administrative and diplomatic service as a policy analyst. He dreams of a Malaysia integrated with integrity! feedback@mmail.com.my. This article first appeared in The Malay Mail.

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